By Andrew Todd
On paper, there is nothing exceptional about Middle Creek. It is not Wild or Scenic, nor has it been bestowed with any Gold Medals or Blue Ribbons. No, on paper, Middle Creek is just like the countless other small tributaries that make up Colorado’s headwaters, an arteriole of our vast hydrologic circulatory system. These humble creeks quietly feed the streams that feed the rivers that feed our Colorado way of life. To get to these waters, you have to drive on paved roads until you get to dirt roads until those dirt roads narrow and then run out. Even then, to truly appreciate the complexity of these creeks, you will still have many miles to go, on foot, on trails that may not have been maintained in a while. You will encounter ticks, mosquitoes, stinging nettle, rattlesnakes, moose, bear, downed trees, and sketchy creek crossings. But if you are patient and dedicated, you can catch and release a spectacular relic of Colorado’s natural history, one of our three remaining sub-species of cutthroat trout.
It is the celebration of these unheralded streams, lost trails and majestic native fish that drove me to create the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. As a trail runner and life-long flyfisherman, fusing the two disciplines seemed natural to me, as trail running allows me to explore and fish our remote cutthroat waters more comprehensively. And then, back at the trailhead, to make it a proper celebration, I add one of the finest uses of Colorado water; our superior craft beer.
run. fish. beer.
Simple as that.
Three years ago, I decided to share this vision with others. In 2013, fifteen people crawled out of their tents to participate in an “unofficial” Flyathlon race event held around Monarch Lake in Grand County, CO. In 2014, we made it official, and thirty-five people toed a shoe-drawn line in the dirt at the base of Middle Creek (yes, the one with ticks and rattlesnakes). And this year, just weeks ago, our sold-out race brought fifty flyathletes from both near (Crestone and Salida) and far (Maine, Wisconsin, and Texas) to the Middle Creek woods near Saguache, CO.
Flyathlon race-day rules are fairly simple. Complete the prescribed trail run, catch a fish at any point during the run, take a picture of said fish on your race bib, and do it all as quickly as possible. The bigger the fish, the more time is taken off at the end of your run (with a special double bonus for catching a native cutthroat trout). In 2015, of the fifty race participants, all but four hooked, landed, and documented their catch, some for the first time ever. And back at our tent city, all fifty enjoyed BBQ, local craft beer, and an awards ceremony loaded with prizes from local Colorado companies thanks to Osprey Packs, Scott Fly Rods, Ascent Fly Fishing, and Rolling River Anglers.
Each Flyathlon race is specifically designed to get people excited about recreating in the most beautiful parts of the Western United States, to infuse the stuffy old sport of fly fishing with a youthful spirit, and to raise money for and awareness about critical cold-water conservation issues. Relying on a crowdfunding model with our 501c3 partner Colorado Trout Unlimited, this past year, our flyathletes raised an incredible $22,200. At least 50% of this money will be re-invested into projects to maintain and enhance the trails, creeks and fisheries within the range of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, ensuring that our activity is sustainable into the future. The remaining monies will be used to tackle important coldwater and native fish issues around the Centennial State.
Moving forward into 2016, I hope to take the Flyathlon to the next level. With my outstanding volunteer planning board, I have created an ambitious agenda with additional events added in several other basins in Colorado, as well as potential out-of-state races. If you feel like you have what it takes to be a flyathlete, please visit our website www.flyathlon.com to get on our email list. If your organization would like to partner with or sponsor the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon to enable us increase our impact, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to seeing you on a small creek somewhere deep in the Colorado woods.
run. fish. beer.
Andrew Todd is a federal research biologist, studying the impact of a variety of stressors on Colorado’s rivers and streams, including acid rock drainage and climate change. Outside of work, Andrew serves as the current chair of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and is the founder and race director of the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. He holds a bachelors degree in biology from Williams College, and masters and doctoral degrees in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.